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TCC Jobs Summit explores existing and emerging opportunities

Participants at the inaugural Tidewater Community College jobs summit, Let’s Grow, stressed, on Tuesday, the need for Hampton Roads to rely on its traditional economic pillars in the port, shipbuilding and repair and the tourism industry to build a plentiful supply of jobs over the next five years.

But that’s only part of the picture, the 23 participants agreed at the Norfolk Waterside Marriott. For example, expansion of Medicaid health care to another 400,000 Virginians through the Affordable Care Act will create 30,000 jobs, said Thom Prevette of Bon Secours Hampton Roads, not just in primary care but also in highly technical fields. “We need employees who are engaged, can think through a problem and take control of an issue,” said Stephen Porter, president of Sentara Princess Anne Hospital.

Add to that the “cool” factor – important in attracting and retaining a young workforce, said Zack Miller, managing director of Hatch, a tech accelerator. “We have to start thinking about what’s cool for young workers to have them fill jobs here and spend money,” he said.

Greg Grootendorst, chief economist with the Hampton Roads Planning District Commission, started the summit with a sobering look at the local economy. Jobs, he said, are returning much more slowly after the Great Recession, and we may not reach pre-recession peak employment until 2017 if average job growth continues.

The 23 participants with President Edna V. Baehre-Kolovani.
​The 23 participants with President Edna V.

The ideas and questions flew quickly during the summit, which was presented by TCC in partnership with Inside Business, the Hampton Roads Business Journal. E. Dana Dickens III, former president of the Hampton Roads Partnership, moderated. TCC President Edna V. Baehre-Kolovani said the college’s role in Workforce Solutions made it a natural to host the conversation. She said businesses have told her better Workforce Solutions is needed, “but that raises the question: for which industries should we be preparing?”

No matter the industry, workers with technical know-how will be in demand. It took the YUPO plant in Chesapeake more than two years to hire an electrical engineer, said Paul Mitcham, president and CEO of YUPO Corporation America. “We can’t hire enough welders, shipfitters and pipefitters,” said Bill Crow, president of the Virginia Ship Repair Association. “How do we start producing these jobs en masse?”

The growth in shipping – particularly when the Panama Canal expansion brings larger container ships to the Port of Hampton Roads – will require people across the supply chain involved in moving exported and imported goods to and from ships. Examples include trucking, customs brokers and distribution. “And tugboats,” said David White, vice president of the Virginia Maritime Association. “We’re seeing a shortage of deckhands – who could one day become tugboat captains.”

The summit wasn’t intended to find all the answers, but a few themes emerged. One is the need to convince young people – and their parents – that good jobs are available in fields that don’t require four-year degrees.  So-called “middle skills” jobs have the potential for good wages. “We have to reach the kids in middle school,” said Carol Curtis, president and CEO of Noah Enterprises. “By high school, it’s too late.”

Pre-college, even early childhood, education is also a critical need, ensuring that the young people graduating from high schools and community colleges are ready to learn so they can work and earn. Kolovani noted that TCC has assumed responsibility for the Smart Beginnings program in Hampton Roads, aimed at improving early childhood teachers and schools.

TCC President Edna Baehre-Kolovani poses with gubernatorial candidate Terry McAuliffe.
TCC President Edna Baehre-Kolovani poses
with gubernatorial candidate Terry McAuliffe.

The participants also discussed the need to simplify the regulatory environment in order to encourage business growth, work and entrepreneurship. “We’re going to see 1,000 businesses with four employees, not four businesses with 1,000 employees,” Miller said.

He pointed out three emerging areas involving smaller businesses in Hampton Roads: breweries, music production and retail restaurants. “Chipotle cornered the burrito restaurant market,” Miller said, adding that Skinny Dip Frozen Yogurt Bar, a locally owned chain with 12 locations, could be the next big thing.

And that definitely has the cool factor.

What are the next steps?

Kolovani said that TCC academic and workforce planning will take the input from the summit into consideration. TCC offers career education in many of the fields mentioned: maritime, welding, trucking, construction, health care, IT and health IT.

A white paper about the summit will be published Sept. 16 in Inside Business. The luncheon following the summit included presentations by gubernatorial candidates Ken Cuccinelli and Terry McAuliffe.